Learning in a British school and the foreign perspective

bilingual brain

Lifelong bilingualism is good for your brain says new research.

It is quite normal for everybody, all over the world, to complain about their national school system, it’s either useless, teachers are inept, there is too much homework, or too little, not enough practical activities or too many, and the list goes on. It seems that there is no one single system that we can call “perfect”. School by its own definition will always be imperfect, given that every single individual is very different, and with 25 to 30 kids in a classroom, you can imagine that it’s virtually impossible to really adapt the learning to every single child. It is also true that a lot of what teachers and staff do in schools has nothing to do with education or learning, but has more to do with the necessity of controlling the crowd, setting boundaries and rules, so they don’t end up with 25 kids running riot around the classroom or 500 hundred in the canteen!

I think most parents accept that to an extent, and we also draw from our own experience in school. However, it is quite shocking the difference of expectations and opinions that one can draw from different cultures with regards to education and schools. In Britain especially the expectations of foreign born parents and British born parents can be quite different. Foreign born parents remember their school years through the textbooks, homework and tests, they remember getting their textbooks at the beginning of the year, caring for them, and paying an ocasional fine when they failed to return the book, or they damaged it. They expect the same for their children, to have a book, a basic tool, that they can use at home. They would like to be able to sit with their child, look through his workbooks, his annotations, the teacher’s comments and support their child, do the homework together, revise the last lesson, have a look at the index to see what their child is going to learn that year. Of course, that is not possible currently in the British system, textbooks are not used, and although parents are constantly asked to support their child in school, there is virtually no homework (compared to what we used to get in the old country). Foreign parents are at a loss, “there is no textbook? No workbook?” – “what am I supposed to teach him at home?” British parents, on the other hand, are happily unaware of the existence of school systems where people can easily, actually at a glance by reading the index, know what it is that their child is going to learn that year, without having to get constant email updates from the school. It doesn’t seem to worry them as much as foreign parents the fact that they can’t sit with their children to do homework or revise their workbook, because it’s all in school. Homework is done on worksheets or photocopies, and that’s fine, there is no need to read from the textbook or summarise it. They sigh with relief when foreign parents tell them about the piles of homework the children do in other countries.

 

What is the right answer? Well, a bit of both, I suppose, not piles of homework, but more than they get, and textbooks, please. In a way for foreign families, bilingual families, it is very important to actually have a textbook or a manual for each subject or topic. Isn’t that a bit prescriptive? – Some may ask. Well, yes and no. If you are a good teacher, you can still plan our lessons properly, having a textbook only means that your students, especially your foreign students, can go home and read more, revise what they have done in class. For foreign students, EAL students (English as an Additional Language) as they’re known in the UK, it’s actually a good tool to have. Given that they are new to the language, listening to the stuff in class doesn’t mean it’s going to stick, unless you have 100% recall ability… which I haven’t yet met anybody who does! To a certain extent we all need to re-read things a few times before we are able to recall it, but for foreign students it’s also about language acquisition and learning new terms that are specific to academic subjects.

unschooling?

Is unschooling the ultimate form of natural education or an unrealistic fad?

One of the main issues that schools face these days are “false native speakers”, as I call them. That is children who were either born in the country to foreign parents, or who came into the country when they were very young. These students pass for native speakers, they speak with perfect accents, they have mastered the young adult’s language and turn of phrases, however, they speak a different language at home, and they only time they use “academic” or “school language” is in lessons, with teachers. Most of the time these students go through the system unnoticed, apparently doing well, especially since the UK educational system lacks any examination system that means students need to achieve a certain level before they move on, they just simply trundle along happily. Happily, that is until they get to the dreaded GCSEs, the first official examinations taken in England and Wales, at 14 and 15. There is when problems start popping up, your regular student suddenly realises that he lacks the body of linguistic knowledge necessary to understand and write at the appropriate academic level. This is the plague of the GCSE teacher and his “false native” speakers. Is there an easy solution? Well, yes and no. Nick Gibb, the current Minister of State at the Department for Education, supported the report drawn by Tim Oatesone of the world’s foremost experts on the school curriculum, Why Textbooks Count. Tim Oates emphasised the need for curriculum coherence and the return of quality textbooks to British schools. I think most foreign born parents will read the paper and agree with most of it, or at least think it’s actually a common sense idea. Like most of reports written for the government, we could have said the same thing if asked, without the expense incurred! However, it’s not surprising either that most of the news articles about this paper are riddled with criticism and derisive comments from “well meaning” posters, given the irrational fear most locals have towards textbooks.

Textbooks, in my opinion, good quality textbooks used adequately, will solve a lot of the problems of the school system, to start with, it would give bilingual students a good chance to become acquainted with the specific language used for different academic subjects, as well as in different contexts. Instead of having to draw it from different sources, bad quality photocopies, and notes copied from PowerPoint presentations, often riddled with spelling mistakes, they would have a basic tool that they could use to build on. They would also be useful for native speakers and their parents, who rather than “guess” what the content of the subject is, given that now the schools’ tendency is to keep all work and books in school, could then read the book, pick any topic they feel unsure of or they want to learn more about and do some research. However, I can see one issue, well, two issues really, firstly is the recalcitrant attitude many parents and teachers have developed towards textbooks, a total irrational fear towards something that has for so long held the knowledge of humanity. The second issue is money, of course, in other countries September can be a very difficult month financially, as one has to cough up the money for the textbooks, in other areas the schools simply provide the books on loan for a year, and if you break it you pay for it. In Britain, the tendency has been for schools to provide all learning materials, so parents would resist the idea of having to pay for anything, and although apparently there is money for expensive interactive whiteboards and projectors, that are used mainly, solely, to project PowerPoints and educational video clips, there is no money for actual textbooks.

What are your views on the topic? Are you for or against textbooks? Do you love or do you hate the current education system in your country?

Speak Your Mind

*